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Ammonia leak in Serbia’s Pirot: How exposure can impact health

Following an ammonia leak caused by a cargo train, around 15 people have been hospitalized and an emergency situation has been declared in Pirot in Serbia, Al Jazeera reported, quoting local media. On Monday morning, people in Pirot — a city of 60,000 people — woke up to dense fog and a strong smell of ammonia following which schools were closed and people were advised not to venture outside their homes, unless necessary.

The report further stated that among those taken to the hospital, one was a child and none of the patients was in a life-threatening condition.

In April this year, an ice factory in Ahmedabad reported ammonia leakage of “severe category” after which several workers and residents of neighboring areas had to be evacuated. Later in June, more than 200 women workers fell unconscious in the Brandix Special Economic Zone at Atchutapuram near Visakhapatnam after a suspected ammonia gas leak.

How is an ammonia leak dangerous?

Dr Viswesvaran Balasubramanian, Consultant, Interventional Pulmonology and Sleep Medicine, Yashoda Hospitals, Hyderabad said that ammonia is a chemical agent that is toxic in a concentrated state upon contact with tissue. “Ammonia can be absorbed into the body by inhalation, ingestion, eye, and skin contact. Ingestion is an uncommon route of exposure,” he said.

He explained that this chemical is irritating to the eyes, respiratory tract, gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and skin as “it reacts with the moisture in the moist linings of body passages and cavities (mucous membranes) to produce an alkaline solution referred to as ammonium hydroxide”. The expert added, “The degree of injury produced by exposure depends on the duration of the exposure and the concentration of the gas or liquid.”

Clean the surface of contact immediately (Source: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

Who is more at risk?

While any person coming in contact with the chemical is at risk, the following people should take extra precautions.

*Those with lung conditions
*Those with underlying low immune status


Dr Balasubramanian listed the common symptoms one may face when impacted by an ammonia leak.

*Burning sensation in the eyesskin, and area of ​​contact
*Blister formation in certain cases
*Respiratory symptoms like coughbreathlessness and hemoptysis, in case of an inhalation injury
*Ingestion of ammonia can cause diarrhea, vomiting and, in certain cases, vomiting of blood

What should you do?

In the case of an ammonia leak, the expert suggested avoidance of contact with the agent immediately. “Cleaning the surface of contact with water, correction of fluid and electrolyte balance and administration of medications for managing complications are the key efforts to mitigate injury,” he concluded.

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